Sunday Reflection – Bob Pounder

Bob Pounder - Sunday Reflection, 21st June

Dear Friends,

I hope that this letter finds you well in spite of the unsettled weather and the continuing uncertainty surrounding the ‘lockdown’. On the weather front, things are set to improve for a while with Wednesday set to be sunny at 27C in the northwest and 30C in London, predicted to be the hottest day of the year so far. At the time of writing, the media reports that the coronavirus alert has been downgraded from 4 to 3. It’s also reported that pubs and restaurants may open from 4th July. They seem to have come up with some very odd rules as to how this is all going to work in practice. At present, I still have no idea as to when we will be able to meet up for a Sunday service but, when we do, I trust that we will not be collecting the offering with a card reader or ordering a cup of tea by app after the service!

 

I am surprised, actually, as to how I have got into the groove of ‘Lockdown’ living. As you all know, I did begin by making videos as a sort of substitute for our Sunday services. I realised quite early on that this was really not my forte and so I have reverted to less dynamic media. This of course means email, phone calls, and the use of snail mail for those who do not use the internet. I have in the past few weeks become acquainted with the benefits of Zoom and have attended various meetings including the recently formed Unitarian Biblical Discussion Group which meets every Saturday from 3pm till 4pm. I have purchased a year’s subscription for Zoom so as a congregation, chapel committee, or officers of the chapel committee we now have the ability to meet if so desired.

 

In this week’s reflection, I grapple with justice, and judgement and how in the face of loss and deep personal suffering it is ultimately only in our surrender to that which is irrevocable can we move on and find peace.

 

May you have a peaceful and enjoyable week.

 

My best wishes as always,

Bob.

 

Prayer

Loving God,

we thank you for the countless blessings we have received

the innumerable good things

that surround us every moment of each day –

so much beauty, variety and interest

We thank you for everything you have given to us

your great love constantly reaching out to us,

your care and compassion that never ceases,

your eternal purpose which slowly but surely

is coming to fulfilment

Forgive us that we are so rarely content,

that we fail to appreciate how fortunate we are,

that we lose sight of what we have,

through dwelling on what we might have had,

Loving God for all that you have given

receive our praise. Amen

 

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Matthew 18:23-35

‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

 

Thomas à Kempis

On the Uses of Adversity

It is good for us to encounter troubles and adversities from time to time, for trouble often compels a man to search his own heart. It reminds him he is in exile here, and that he can put his trust in nothing in this world. It is good, too that we sometimes suffer opposition, and that men think ill of us and misjudge us, even when we do mean well. Such things are an aid to humility, and preserve us from pride and vainglory. For we more readily turn to God as our inward witness, when men despise us and think no good of us.

 

Justice and Peace

When we consider statutory law, we know that there may exist a tension between how a particular law may be interpreted and what the makers of that law intended. At the conclusion of a court case, the judge must make a judgement, taking all the facts into account. Ideally, he or she will seek to act within both the letter and the spirit of the law. We may get a sense of the potentiality for the exercise of that spirit in Portia’s plea for clemency in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice:

 

The Quality of Mercy

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute of God himself;

And earthly power doth then show like God’s
When mercy seasons justice.

 

In day to day life, we are constantly required to make decisions based on our own judgements. A judgement may be an opinion that we have not expressed; but expressed or not, it remains still: a judgement. We make judgements when we see others breaking the law or when we feel that someone we know has not quite lived up to our expectations. At the same time, we can be admonished for being too judgemental. Nevertheless, it remains within our power, whether or not to forgive a slight against us, or to make the decision to write off that debt that someone may owe us.

 

On the question of forgiveness, we have the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant or Jesus’ injunction that we should forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22). There are clear psychological and spiritual benefits in practicing forgiveness, as we all know, but in the real world we also have to use our common sense. Whilst we may understand the depth of compassion uttered in that plea from the cross, ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34); we cannot, for example,remain indifferent to the murder of a child. We have courts of law for good reason. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

 

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:1-2

 

But this really speaks to us of an attitude, a way in which we might relate to others and not that we should suspend our faculty for critical thought. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, wrote:

 

When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. Romans 2:14

 

Implicit in this statement appears to be the idea that at some level, within ourselves, a sense of justice prevails. Without any legal or religious training, most of us know that our actions have consequences albeit, not always foreseeable! Furthermore, because we are human, we naturally have the potential to understand and to empathise with others, thus the golden rule of ‘do unto others…’ is readily grasped and universally understood.

 

In law, there is the concept of ‘natural justice’ and in the broadest sense we know that codes of behaviour have evolved over time, from society to society, but this sense of justice seems to be an innate part of who we are, it’s hard wired into our psyche. We hear it from aggrieved squabbling children, that old refrain, ‘It’s not fair!’. In the adult world there are campaigns for justice of one kind or another. Plaintiffs appear in the news and in feature articles declaring that they ‘only want justice’. The bereaved may seek justice at a murder trial, or at a coroner’s court. And we are all familiar with the old ruling that, ‘Justice should not only be done; it must also be seen to be done.’

 

However, there are limits to the sanctions a court can impose or the compensation it can award. Justice is not the same as revenge and human pain and loss are not so easily set aside by the ruling of a court, no matter how just that ruling may be. The fact is that some grievances cannot be resolved no matter what reparations may be reasonably offered simply because the aggrieved cannot, or is unable to find or accept closure. In the end, there is the world as we want it and the world as it is. If one continues to reject ‘what is’ in favour of ‘what isn’t’, then the suffering will continue.

 

Paradoxically, that same suffering may present the opportunity for healing, for freedom and the opportunity to move on. The prophet Elijah, in deep despair lay down in the wilderness and asked God to take his life (1 Kings 19). As the story moves on, we find Elijah standing on Mount Horeb as God passes as ‘earthquake, wind and fire’. God wasn’t present in any of this spectacular, earthly, tumult, but then came the still small voice of God asking, ‘what are you doing here, Elijah?’ From time to time, ‘What are you doing here?’ is a question we may have to ask ourselves because this question properly considered has the potential to bring us to the present moment, affording us the opportunity to reassess and to recalibrate our lives, to find peace and to surrender, and to accept what is.

 

The Benediction

May the Lord bless you with all good and keep you from all evil; may He give light to your heart with loving wisdom, and be gracious to you with eternal knowledge; may He lift up his loving countenance upon you for eternal peace.

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